The ever-changing life cycle of a local group

BCT Local Group
14 January 2024

Around 21 years ago I just happened to see a small advert in the then BCT Newsletter asking if any BCT member lived near Gent and would like to meet up. As a new mum with a 6 week-old baby, no family around and a husband who was travelling for work the majority of time, I jumped at the opportunity and could not get in the car quick enough to meet her. The difficulty of wrestling to put the non-Iso-fix baby seat in my little car was well worth the effort as, when I met up with her, I instantly released I was not in alone in this country.

As a brand-new mum, her 2 children seemed so old to me. They were only 3 years and 18 months-old at the time but, looking back, it helped open my eyes to the joys of future motherhood. While she cooed over my sleeping baby, I could see how fun things could become as I explored a selection of building toys with her toddler.

She told me about a couple of other mums she knew and we arranged to go to a soft play area together. They apologised that it would be a bit boring for me with a non-mobile baby but it certainly was not the case. I had found a small community bringing up children without family around – other people who spoke English, though we were different nationalities, and a valuable source of support and experience. I still remember when we met up on one very hot day and Kelsey would not stop crying. I asked the others what could be the matter and one mum tentatively said that she wondered if Kelsey was too hot with the hat on. As an overwhelmed first-time new mum, it had not even entered my mind that wearing a bonnet in a maxi-cosi might be too hot! I removed the hat and it was an instant solution! You can learn so many small tricks from other mums with children older than your own.

We continued to meet up and then I learnt that they would be moving to Brussels. I felt despair but it occurred to me that I could place a similar note in the newsletter and see if anyone else lived around Gent and wanted to meet up. I did just that and sure enough, another couple of mums got in touch and there started a friendship group that lasts to this very day!

At first, we met in each other’s houses but, due to dogs, allergies and children needing more space, we decided to hire our local community hall one morning per week. It was perfect. Marcel, the wonderful caretaker, even had fresh coffee brewing for us tired mums when we arrived. And so, the meetings continued. Cath and Tom even travelled 1 hour each way from Ieper to join us as we were still their nearest ‘local BCT group’. The children had so much fun playing with the toys we would bring along each week. Depending on the weather, we also met up at the local park or soft play area and the children really learnt to explore together. Happy times. They completed so many ‘firsts’ together. Teething, potty training, riding bicycles, first day of school. Our own little ‘surrogate family’ away from home, even calling the other mums ‘Auntie’. When our own mums came to visit, they also came along to the playgroups and got to know each other as well. They always said they felt calmer waving goodbye to us at the airport knowing we had a lovely community of support and friendship around us.

For birthday parties and summer BBQs our partners joined in and that small community, developed from that one simple BCT newsletter announcement, has literally shaped our lives.

We would borrow travel buggies for our trips or even interview suits when one was trying to get a new job. When one of us travelled back home, we took shopping lists from the others. Some mums had second babies and they were at once adored by a whole group of big siblings ready to play with them.

“I heard about the BCT in 2001, when I was expecting our first child. But I only knew about BCT Britain and had no idea that a group of wonderful women had created BCT Belgium! It is only a couple of years after the birth of our second child, that I happily discovered BCT Belgium! I was particularly interested in the birth education program, so I embarked on the training program (with Kay Cram as a wonderful tutor, and a lovely group of students coming from different European countries). It was a fantastic experience. After a couple of intensive learning years, I had to make a choice though, as combining family life, work, and the training program was just becoming too much. So, I stopped the training but remain forever grateful for that great experience. It was also an opportunity to discover and appreciate the beautiful support network that the BCT offers. And for many years my daughter loved going to the Christmas crafts activity. I am happy to continue being a member, as a way to support the BCT and be a part of the BCT community and Lifers group.” C.D.

As the children turned 3, they started different schools and, naturally, things changed. At first, we even kept them off on a Wednesday so we could still meet up but inevitably this became harder to do. Our group meetings decreased as other commitments to our children’s social lives took over. We still met up for special occasions, birthdays, Halloween parties etc. and occasionally without the children for a chat about the ups and downs of school life. Once again, swapping experiences, ideas and even clothes. It was just like having your family around you.

When the children reached 5, many decided to move back home and so the meetings stopped. As the only one who stayed, I was very sad but, thankfully, we still kept, and still keep, in regular contact. Whenever they are back in Belgium they visit us, or even visit Belgium specially to see us! Cath, the mum who commuted an hour each way to come to those playgroups, is the godmother to my second daughter so they really did become part of our family!

Unfortunately, 10 years later when my third baby arrived, the regular meetings had stopped. Although our son never missed out on social contact, sometimes I felt that I did. I wished I had had another BCT local group meet-up to attend each week.

When my husband had a heart attack, the first people to arrive to support me were some of the ‘old’ BCT playgroup crowd. An air traffic control strike prevented my parents from flying out immediately. It really helped reassure my husband as he recovered in hospital, knowing I was not alone with the 3 children.

21 years later, us ‘old’ BCT mums still keep in touch.
Our children have grown up with each other and are now at universities all over the world but they share fond memories of those local playgroup days.

“I wish I was a member of the BCT before! I was one in 2017-2018 for a year but never went to any playgroups – the (Twizzit) app has made things so much easier! Now I really feel I am part of a community, in many ways and I’ve only been a member since October :-)” E.M.

Recently, I received contact details from a fellow BCT volunteer whose friend had moved from Brussels, wondering if I might like to get in touch. We exchanged a few messages and calls and then arranged to meet up for coffee. Once again, the ‘click’ came. The BCT community working its magic. Our children might be very different ages, but we still connect with the common feature of being a mum with no immediate family around. It has been lovely to meet someone new but with whom you still have a lot in common.

So, don’t worry or get disheartened if your local group activities sometimes expand and decrease over periods of time. It is an ever-changing life cycle. The most important thing is that the communities and friendships they develop, even if it is just one other family, can last for a lifetime!

 By Shelley O’Brien, BCT Volunteer Coordinator, volunteering@bctbelgium.org 

This article was first published in the spring 2023 edition of the BCT’s Small Talk magazine.

This article is about: Lifers | Local groups | playgroups | support

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